Brexit: Will UK Citizens Be Safer?

Portsmouth Marching Band and Security People
Portsmouth Marching Band and Security People

In 2021 the European Union will introduce the European Travel Information and Authorisation System or ETIAS for UK citizens wishing to travel to the EU, which will be complete and in place by the end of 2022.

There will also be a new a reciprocal arrangement for EU citizens wanting to enter the UK. European Union residents with criminal convictions and “people sentenced to more than a year in prison will be turned away, in line with other foreign nationals” announced Home Secretary Priti Patel in October 2020. She continued to outline how “For too long, EU rules have forced us to allow dangerous foreign criminals, who abuse our values and threaten our way of life, onto our streets. The UK will be safer thanks to firmer and fairer border controls where foreign criminals regardless of nationality will be subject to the same criminality rules.” (1)

Ms. Patel has also spoken about how she is going to give the police increased powers but the details of how she intends this to happen in practice is still unclear.

Today more than 40 countries including Ireland and France, Belgium and Germany have travel bans in place for any UK residents looking to travel abroad. This is because of the new strain of coronavirus which has developed in England over the last few weeks. Leaders worldwide are looking to contain more transmissible versions of Covid-19 found in people living in English counties in the southern region and also in people who have travelled from South Africa. (2)

The new arrangements that will make it tougher for men, women and children to visit the UK. This new approach that focuses on securing the countries borders has been criticised by those opposing Boris Johnson’s government as it takes a much stricter approach to immigration in 2021 than the previous more liberal leadership teams in Westminster have administered.

However many people that voted for Brexit will be pleased with the new measures. Communities like Thanet near Dover have been disproportionately affected by immigrants unexpectedly arriving by boat from the EU via France. Of the residents that voted in the Brexit referendum 63.8% supported leaving the EU. Locals in this area supported restricting the flow of people wanting to settle in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and accessing the benefits of the UK’s public services like the National Health Service. (3)

In June 2019 the Office for National Statistics recorded that there were 2.37 million EU nationals working in the UK. (4) These professionals help create a society in the UK that has been admired across the world. Thousands of Europeans who work in our financial and manufacturing industries and in and our health, security and support services are either leaving the country or reconsidering whether they want to continue to continue to work for example as nurses under the new rules and regulations now the UK has left the EU.

Currently EU nationals living in Great Britain and Northern Ireland who have criminal convictions will be unlikely to apply for the right to remain in the UK for fear of being rejected and potentially deported.

It is a widely held belief that UK criminals have been relocating to sunnier climates like Spain for decades and the ETIAS system is likely to prevent them leaving the UK. There are many factors to consider and it is not necessarily the case that the general public will be any safer after Brexit.

Communication between the UK and the EU about international criminals and policing in general looks like it will be diminished following Brexit. The police agencies will be working in a more separate way and not together in the same teamwork manor as they have done previously with Europol and the Schengen Information System II databases.

Sir Ian Blair who was Metropolitan Police Commissioner from 2005 and 2008 and Lord Ricketts a former national security adviser are quoted in the Independent this afternoon on the subject of Brexit and both have agreed publicly that “this is going to make us less safe.” (5)

Important security database information will not be so accessible to UK police departments after Brexit because of increased intellectual privacy arrangements the UK wished to include in the Brexit agreement. This means in practice we will not be able to have “direct real time” access to information about potentially dangerous criminals attempting to visit the UK.

An example of how the continental neighbours worked with Great Britain previously could be the European Arrest Warrant agreement which meant that “From April 2010 to March 2020, the UK sent back 10,689 people wanted in other EU member states, and it got back 1,564 people wanted for a variety of offences including drug trafficking, rape and murder” according to the BBC. (6) Leaving the European Union and therefore ending the European Arrest Warrant agreement may lead to European nationals living in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland committing crimes in the UK and fleeing to their country of origin where they would not be extradited to face criminal charges in a court in Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

EU nationals have been invited to apply for a ‘right to remain’ in the UK under the EU settlement scheme. “However, if an individual who is protected by the Withdrawal Agreement commits crimes from 1 January 2021, in the UK or overseas, their status could be revoked.” says the Home Office website. (7)

It remains to be seen in practice whether the new border security arrangements keep UK or EU citizens safer. The government says they are fairer but there are criticisms that migrants that lack digital access and good language skills may find navigating the changes to the immigration process confusing.

It is possible that law abiding residents from abroad living in the UK could inadvertently become criminalised by not applying for papers and passports correctly in the specified time frames.

There is a new and real threat for young people and adults of all ages in the UK. Being convicted of breaking the law can easily result in the withdrawal of the rights of the citizen to have freedom to travel to so many countries in the same continent. This will likely be a real deterrent to any person who may like to travel to the EU or America in the future.

The BBC reported on Christmas Day that The Home Office said “the post-Brexit agreement included streamlined extradition arrangements, fast and effective exchange of national DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data and continued transfers of Passenger Name Record data.” However the same article mentioned the inability to access EU security databases post Brexit and how that stolen items such as guns cannot now easily be searched for by UK police using technology to solve and prevent crimes. (1)

We hope that the continued cooperation between police forces internationally will be possible through a process of negotiation and partnership over the coming years. It is vital that terrorist groups that operate internationally are thwarted with the intelligence from every liberal democratic country working together.

We hope that the agreement with the EU will mean the UK is stronger and safer but only time will show whether we are moving towards or away from these admirable goals for our country. We are all living in a pluralist 21st century global environment. Building stronger and safer communities across the UK is in reality a complex issue, in which Brexit is an ambitious solution.


(1) ‘Brexit deal ‘will make UK safer’, Priti Patel says, BBC News, 25 December 2020 (5) ‘Brexit deal ‘will make UK safer’, Priti Patel says, BBC News

(2) ‘COVID-19: Which countries have restricted travel to and from the UK over new variant?’ 25 December 2020 (2) ‘COVID-19: Which countries have restricted travel’ Sky News

(3) BBC News EU Referendum results (archived pages) BBC News EU Referendum results (archived pages)

(4) Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: August 2019 Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: August 2019

(5) ‘UK will be ‘less safe’ after Brexit, says former Metropolitan Police chief’ Adam Forrest, Independent, 4 January 2021 ‘UK will be ‘less safe’ after Brexit, says former Metropolitan Police chief’ Adam Forrest, Independent

(6) ‘Brexit: Will the UK and the EU co-operate on security?’ Chris Morris, BBC News, 20 October 2020 ‘Brexit: Will the UK and the EU co-operate on security?’ Chris Morris, BBC News

(7) ‘Home office announces tougher criminality rules for EU citizens’, 21 October 2020 ‘Home office announces tougher criminality rules for EU citizens’ Gov.UK

(8) ‘Schengen Area – The World’s Largest Visa Free Zone’ 28 December 2020 ‘Schengen Area – The World’s Largest Visa Free Zone’